No vegetable status for pizza at lunch time

12/05/2011 08:31:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

The pizza companies that I see growing in schools are those with more fresh ingredients, bringing along a side salad with every slice (yes, there are companies doing that right now).

It’s time for school leaders nationally to look critically at which of their food suppliers are offering great-tasting, fresh foods to delight the kids, and which see schools as a market for products that wouldn’t sell in a mainstream restaurant. 

It’s not just about nutrient profile — it’s about the quality that kids want and deserve.

Unfortunately, the pizza fiasco got confused in the press with the potato issue, which was a real concern that the USDA needed to fix. 

United Fresh and many others argued in our comments that the USDA needed to allow more flexibility in the proposed rule for schools to incorporate healthy potatoes.

From the start, I was confident we were going to win this issue in the course of rulemaking. 

Others felt that political pressure was important in helping USDA recognize the importance of the issue.

But, in either case, advocates were at least up front addressing the issue on the Hill unlike the secret pizza deal that was inserted into “must-pass” legislation.

I can assure you that you’ll never see such a measure making it through committee hearings and any kind of a vote, because constituents would raise heck.

But at the end of the day, the pizza deal is likely to have little effect anyway. 

The good news is the new USDA school lunch rule will soon be published. 

It will still result in doubling the servings of real fruits and vegetables in schools. Schools will still receive extra funding for meals that meet these healthier standards.

And, despite the silly game of trying to count pizza as a vegetable, the trends are clear. Kids across the country will be getting an ever-increasing array of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables in schools.

This time, I believe the desperate attempts from those who would block that progress may have backfired more than they know.

Tom Stenzel is president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

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